Joint Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the implementation of the CEDAW in the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, China (09/2014)
by Action for REACH OUT, JJJ Association, Midnight Blue, Teen's Key
Article 6- Exploitation of women
Sex Workers' Right to Life
In the year 2008 and year 2009, 10 sex workers in Hong Kong were murdered and among them 9 worked in "one sex worker apartments". According to Hong Kong laws, it is not illegal for an individual Hong Kong resident to work as a sex worker. However, any premises within which two or more persons provide commercial sexual services are considered a "vice-establishment", and are therefore deemed to be illegal. Sex workers are therefore forced to work alone in an isolated setting, yet without any support, exposing their personal safety to real and substantial risks like being robbed, raped or murdered by their customers,.
In its report, the Hong Kong Government claims that "the current legislative regime tolerates the operation of 'one sex worker apartments' while criminalising the operation of vice activities involving more than one sex worker. This arrangement strikes a reasonable balance between the human rights and privacy of sex workers on the one hand, and the well-being of other members of community and the prevailing moral values of community on the other."(Para154)
We hold that the Hong Kong Government is obligated to explain in further details why the legal definition of "vice establishment" has to make it unlawful if sex workers co-work in one single premises, in particular the rationale behind such a law, and examine the impacts such a definition cause to the right to life and personal security of sex workers in Hong Kong.
We ask the Committee to urge the Hong Kong Government to examine the situation of sex workers and review the legal definition of "vice establishment". The Hong Kong Government may consider taking thejudgments of Supreme Court of Canada into reference. It should introduce relevant legislative reform and allow at least two sex workers to co-work in one single premises for mutual protection.
Sex Workers' Right to Health
Action for REACH OUT, Teen's Key, JJJ Association and Midnight Blue launched a survey on barriers to condom use among sex workers in Hong Kong in November 2013. 157 sex workers were interviewed and it was found that 70.06% of them think that sex workers can be arrested due to possession of condoms. 29.94% of all interviewed sex workers choose to possess less or no condoms to decrease the chance of being arrested, while 3.82% of the interviewed sex workers choose to use less or no condoms so as to decrease the chance of being arrested.
The survey findings are alarming and they indicate that the Government's using possession of condoms as evidence of sex work jeopardises HIV and STI prevention efforts inHong Kongand sex workers' health is therefore put at risk.
We call on the Hong Kong Government to pay close attention to the survey findings and study the measures introduced to San Francisco and New York State in June 2013 which ended the use of possession of condoms as evidence of sex work.We ask the Committee to urge the Hong Kong Governmentto stop putting sex workers' health at risk and immediately cease using possession of condoms as evidence of sex work and related offences.
Sex Workers' Right to Equal Protection and Treatment
Police officers, during undercover operations, are allowed to solicit sex workers to perform certain sexual services (which is, in the end, unpaid) to "gather evidence" for prosecution. Some sex workers reported physical/verbal assault by the police and immigration officers. Also their fundamental legal rights are often abused, such as: the right to remain silent; the right to make telephone calls; the right to legal advice and representation; the right to an interpreter (with correct dialect); and the right to have the correct criminal procedures implemented.
We ask the Committee to urge the Hong Kong Government to ensure that the rights of sex workers are effectively protected under law without discrimination, including more transparency with the procedures used for victim recognition, prosecutions and convictions. This would further require more intensive and widely rolled out training of victim identification across the government and law enforcement agencies.
 In Canada, three current or former sex workers brought an application seeking declarations that three provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code which make it an offence to keep or be in a bawdy house, prohibit living on the avails of prostitution; and prohibit communicating in public for the purposes of prostitution, infringe their rights. They argued that these restrictions on sex work put the safety and lives of sex workers at risk, by preventing them from implementing certain safety.
The Supreme Court of Canada declared in Dec 2013 that these laws which prohibit street soliciting, brothels and people living off the earnings of prostitution create severe dangers for vulnerable women and therefore violate Canadians’ basic values. The declaration of invalidity suspended for one year, during which time the federal government can consider whether to design new laws that comply with the Charter of Rights of Freedoms.
"New York: Assembly Passes Condom Law", Human Rights Watch, 25 June 2013.